The Biocitizen Ethos
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
MLK, Letter from the Birmingham Jail
Hi Biocitizen friends—
Every year or so Biocitizen refines its definition of what a biocitizen is. This year we unmuddy the “citizen” part of the word. Bio means life; citizen means legally-empowered inhabitant of a city. Citizens cooperate with other inhabitants to create a superorganism (called “government”), each individual action choreographed together to achieve the collective goal of transgenerational survival.
—What does it mean to be a citizen not only of a city but also of bios?
Ecology confirms our individual lives are nested in large long-surviving superorganisms called biomes. There are coastal biomes, desert biomes, mountain biomes—all characterized by symbioses of climatic, hydrological, geological and biological realities. By, with, and through these symbioses are we embodied, and live. Without this merging of our and other entities, we die.
We can’t live more than a few minutes without incorporating air, or a few days without drinking water. We are, therefore, air and water. If we are not air and water, we are not. If we aren’t what we eat, we aren’t. Our lives are biomic.
A biocitizen is aware they’re made of their biome. They know the biome they live in has laws. In the same way cities have laws, so does bios.
Laws arise from ethics, which is the common sense of what is right and wrong. This common sense follows the logic of survival, for death is the ultimate law: Humans recognize laws within the context of their own, and their city’s, survival. The main purpose of civil law is to determine how the necessary actions taken to survive are justified and regulated by citizens.
How citizens handle the brute needs of survival is the definition of their culture. Ethics is neutral in the fact that both criminals and saints abide by them. When we look for the source of a city’s laws, we find the ethos which is a general feeling shared by the citizens. Ethos in not neutral. It is synonymous with the character of the citizen.
Ethos is defined as “the ‘genius’ of a people, characteristic spirit of a time and place”.
Ethos is also our biome, as our Omora friends explain:
In its most archaic form, the Greek word ethos means den, the dwelling of an animal. Through an extension of the word’s use, its meaning came to include the dwellings of humans. Later, this noun also became the verb “to dwell.” This dual noun-verb meaning of the Greek “ethos,” is mirrored by the Latin words “habitat” and “inhabition”.
—What is the ethos of the biocitizen?
Biocitizenship is available to all of us, because we are innately biocitizens. We don’t need to become one. We need to realize our inherent status, and more deeply understand the laws of bios. These laws define how we can exert our powers wisely within our “den”.
Bios, the name we give to the sum planetary life that is the subject of Biology, includes all biomes.
Bios can’t be owned as property. Biology will never fully describe, and technology will never master, it.
Bios unites us. Without it, there is nothing.
Bios is reality, the common shared basis for the existence of all symbionts.
The biocitizen is fundamentally an inhabitant of bios in its form of a commons, the great big life we live in. The biocitizen is, secondly, a member of a particular species, an animal amongst animals. Thirdly, the biocitizen is cosmopolitan, a multicultural citizen of the world. Finally, the Biocitizen is a (non-)gendered, national and/or ethnic self.
If ethos is a den, the den is actually not metaphorical: it is the biotic commons our identity is nested in. Personal identity is nested in cultural identity, which is nested in species identity, which is nested in biotic identity.
The biocitizen is a child in the family of beings, only about 60,000 years old. Dragonflies are about 300 million years old. What this means to us, who look upon dragonflies as creatures of little consequence who are so fragile we can crush them between two fingers, is that we need to have the sensitivity to the welfare of the dragonfly that we have to a family member. The Biocitizen ethos lets us celebrate our status as children in the family of beings.
We have been trained, primarily, to take care of our personal identity and we are rewarded for being selfish; “individuality” is traditional for us and it is the foundation of the colonialist capitalist property-based Anglo-American culture that presided over the fossil-fuel-based industrial modernist era. As we reckon with challenges of the Anthropocene the realization of ourselves as biocitizens is necessary. The biocitizen is actively engaged in evolving out of a personal identity into a biotic identity. The Biocitizen ethos lets us celebrate our evolution from individuals constituted by unsustainable industrialism to beings constituted by biomes.
Because we are gene-kin to bios, we have an equal existential status with all other beings. Equality is a biological fact, evidenced by the DNA we share with other creatures who constitute our biomes. For example, the lactose acidophilus bacteria in our stomach are essential to our digestion and immune system; though we have no particular awareness or affection for it, we die without it. We are, therefore, lactose acidophilus bacteria: existential equals through symbiosis. The Biocitizen ethos lets us celebrate our status as equals amongst the creatures who share our “den.”.
Biotic equality is the physical ground for the biocitizen ethos and a politics and governance that acknowledge and respect that primordial equality.
Let us consider how we can behave in accordance with this fact: we are equals with all beings who inhabit the biotic commons.
Obviously we can’t live without altering the biome to improve our chances of survival, but what is right and wrong human behavior in the biotic commons?
What is the biocitizen ethic?
What we do to the biome we do to ourselves. Behavior that brings health to the biome is right. Behavior that doesn’t is wrong.
All creatures eat, and the taking of another life to nourish one’s own life is necessary. Right eating does not consume more than needed, and honors the lives being killed so we may live. Wrong eating takes lives that are not needed to keep us alive.
All creatures incorporate their biomes into themselves. To incorporate more than is necessary to live, is wrong. To incorporate enough to live healthily, and little more, is right. To poison the biome that becomes us is wrong. To bring health to the biome is good.
All creatures reproduce themselves. To reproduce yourself, and love and care for progeny, is good. To reproduce beyond this, to sire progeny that you will not love and care for is wrong.
All in all, the biocitizen ethic inspires us to bring health to the long body we share that extends backwards in time beyond reckoning, spreads wide in this present moment as far as every living hungry and/or pregnant kin, and forward into what we will experience if we care for our families. From this sense of right and wrong that based on our responsibilities to the biotic commons, new ways of living are imagined, new insights and perspectives gained, new art, philosophy, technology, politics and civilization arise.
And these are exactly what we need right now.